At the end of Monday night’s Town Council meeting, during Council Comments, Councilor Jeff Cianciolo suggested adding a nonbinding referendum question to the November ballot that would ask whether the EG Fire District should be merged with the town or remain separate.
Under the current long-standing arrangement, there is the Town of East Greenwich (which includes police, schools, public works and parks and rec) and the EG Fire District. They are completely distinct operations, with two separate taxing authorities. Many communities in the state have had such arrangements.
Cianciolo, who was elected to the Town Council two years ago and is running for re-election, said he started thinking about this after he got on the Council and was assigned as a liaison to the Fire District’s planning committee.
“One of the things that I found troublesome is that access to electing your representatives in the Fire District is slim,” Cianciolo said. “If you’re not available on one particular day in June … you don’t have any say.”
Fire District Commissioners are elected at the District’s annual meeting, typically in mid June. At their last annual meeting, for instance, three commissioners were elected.
“You could have a group of people of like mind walk in that night and elect a commissioner. I don’t think it’s good government,” he said. While on the planning committee, he said, “I suggested, ‘Why don’t you have commissioners elected in the general election” in November. He said members of the commision “pooh-poohed” the idea, saying that people were happy with the system the way it was.
Because the issue was raised during "council comments" and was not listed on the agenda, there was no discussion during the meeting. Instead, the issue will be added to the agenda for the next meeting, July 23.
After the meeting, Cianciolo said he wanted to hear from citizens what they thought about having two separate systems. “Should we have two separate municipal governments?” he said. “You’re in these meetings and people would speak with such authority: ‘People don’t want this. They like it the way it is.’”
Councilor Mark Gee happens to be a Fire District commissioner too. Asked after the meeting for his opinion, he said, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong in discussing a proposal. In fact, I think it’s healthy.… “
He added, "If I were in charge, I would definitely be in favor of it."
According to Gee, the Fire District's planning committee was created "by my audacity in asking, 'What are the factors to be considered if the Fire District were to merge with the town or some other larger entity?'" He continued, "It’s very difficult to be a voice for change when nobody else wants change."
Council President Michael Isaacs said after the meeting he thought the Council could put a nonbinding question on the ballot, but he emphasized, "We have no authority to do anything with the Fire District. Based on what I’ve read on some mergers in the state … that’s an act of the legislature."
The Town Council meets next on Monday, July 23.